Thematic Research Collections.

This week’s reading once again has us consider the digitization of primary sources, and the aggregation of these sources online. In her piece, Carole Palmer gives builds on Unsworth’s work, providing empirical examples of how digitization enhances collaborative work in the humanities, and going on to make the case that this is scholarly production. To her credit, she does not insist that this is necessarily humanities scholarship, though that does seem to be the subtext, but I could be mistaken.

Palmer, like the directors and producers of the sites that I reviewed on the Omeka Showcase Exhibit site, does not belong to a humanities department. She is affiliated with the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois. Likewise, the producers of the Ann Lewis’ Women’s Suffrage Collection, the Digital Manifesto Archive, the New York Art Research Consortium on the Gilded Age in New York City, the Eastern Oklahoma Tuberculosis Sanatorium, and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History all lack extensive humanities training, or at least credentials. The one exception is the Director of Northeastern University’s Women Writer’s Project, Julia Flanders, who is a Professor of the Practice of English. But of all these sites, she appears to be the only individual with extensive humanities expertise; even her second in command, Syd Bauman, is listed as a programmer, not a humanities scholar. The remaining members listed are encoders. Bauman’s is associated with Digital Scholarship Group, which he lists as a department. This intrigues me. Does Northeastern have a department devoted to the digital humanities? If so, what does that look like? Is it staffed with programmers or scholars or are scholars also programmers?

As for the content of the sites, they vary of course. The Northeastern site is professional. Others are less so. I was excited to find a link to Cyberpunk in the Digital Manifesto Archive, but when I clicked on it there was nothing. That sort of thing is very common with non-professional sites, and I think it speaks to the need for funding to hire people to do a good job. The amateur sites, while potentially useful, lack oversight and are in need of funding. While I love the idea of anyone creating an online archive or thematic research collection, funding and training are often lacking in non-institutionalized online spaces.

I will end by noting that UNESCO, a division of the United Nations I believe, funded an enormous project that led to the digitization of the majority of documents on slavery housed in Colombia’s National Archive. The project highlights both the costs and the great potential of digitization and the creation of thematic research collections.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *